Profile Of The Prophets - Jonah

by Joseph Hunting

Jonah, whose name means 'dove' was born in Galilee about two thousand eight hundred years ago. He was chosen by God to warn the great city of Ninevah of pending judgement if the inhabitants did not repent of their evil ways. Ninevah was referred to by Nahum as a " bloody and cruel city" and Israel was under threat of an invasion by the armies of Assyria of which Nineveh was the capital.

It could well be that the impending destruction of Ninevah was the reason for Jonah's reluctance to be God's messenger of mercy. Be that as it may, Jonah decided to disobey the Lord and took ship to Tarshish in the opposite direction.

It wasn't long before disaster struck. In the teeth of a terrible storm the crew threw the cargo overboard in an effort to save the ship. Sensing that one of their company was the cause of their plight, they questioned Jonah and he admitted he was fleeing from God. Reluctantly, "they took up Jonah and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging" (1:15).

Under normal circumstances that would have ended the story. Man overboard! And the crew sailed on into oblivion not knowing of the drama about to take place that has had sceptics arguing ever since. The Bible does NOT say that Jonah was swallowed by a whale. What it does say is: "Now the Lord had prepared a GREAT FISH to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights" (1:17).

Whilst it is not specifically stated that Jonah perished when swallowed by this enormous fish the Scripture indicates that he actually died for "out of the belly of Sheol I cried and you heard my voice". Sheol is the place where only the spirits of the physically dead go and it is not to be confused with the grave wherein the body is placed.

There is an interesting parallel in the new Testament when the Pharisees sought a sign from Messiah. "He answered and said unto them, an evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign: and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah: for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's (literally, huge fish) belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matthew 12:39,40).

Just as Jonah's body was in the belly of the great fish, but his spirit was in Sheol, so Messiah's body was in the tomb whilst His spirit was in the heart of the earth, in Sheol, preaching to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19).

And as Messiah was resurrected on the third day, even so was Jonah when, "the Lord spoke unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land" (2:10). This was the turning point in Jonah's headlong flight from doing the Lord's will. He lost no time in going to Ninevah to warn its inhabitants of Divine wrath unless they repented. And to his astonishment (including everyone else's who reads this amazing story) they did!

Apart from the lesson Jonah learnt of the futility of trying to escape from the presence of the Lord, his narrative reveals God's gracious mercy to undeserving Gentiles when they repent and turn unto Him.

Jonah wasn't the first to disobey God's direct instructions, nor has he been the last. History both ancient and contemporary is crammed with the accounts of lives that have suffered shipwreck for the same reason. However, Jonah's case is unique because of the amazing events associated with his disobedience. We are able to believe implicitly in the Biblical account of Jonah being swallowed whole by a great fish and then being vomited onto dry land three days later, for the Bible is a running account of God's intervention by means of miracles.

The existence of Israel to this very day is one long series of miracles. Sometimes He parted the Red Sea or provided manna in the wilderness, or on another occasion He preserved the nation from wholesale slaughter through the intervention of Esther. In the latter case the Lord used human instruments to perform His will. Maybe this wasn't as spectacular a miracle as the parting of the sea but the result was the same.

And just as the Lord used human intervention for Israel's preservation in Esther's time, so He has in the events of our time since the rebirth of this infant State in 1948. The mighty God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the God who lived in Jonah's day is just the same today!